Skip to main content
10:00 pm
books on line instead of being produced. so, there will definitely be a decrease in the number of books available and if stores like the still stores like this don't survive then there won't be books readily available for the public. as the book business continues to change i would like to be able to persevere and stay here for the indefinite future. ..
10:01 pm
>> host: well, martin, i'm very pleased to be with you to talk to you about your new book. >> guest: thank you. >> host: now, you've written a number of biographies other the course of your career, and i wanted to ask if you felt this was a different sort of project than the other ones or whether you approached it differently? what were the reasons that you decided to write this book? >> guest: i knew howard somewhat. we were never close friends, but i did know him. and when he died, i had the thought that i might well be the right person, because we shared a lot of of political values in common. and i always liked him very much as a human being. so i talked to the family, and
10:02 pm
the archives were all unprocessed, but they were willing to let me in to rumble around. and i did that for a couple of years. [laughter] and i think the real surprise in terms of the archives was that howard -- who seemed to be always a very open man -- had, in fact, vetted his archives quite considerably, omitting much of his correspondence and also anything much that alluded to his personal life. i didn't expect that. that was a first for me in all the biographies i've done. >> host: well, um, we'll start with his earlier life where you were able to get a fair bit of information from speaking with
10:03 pm
family and friends -- a little bit. [laughter] so i wanted to ask about some of his formative political experiences. starting, first, with his family life growing up as the son of immigrants, russian-jewish immigrants in brooklyn. >> guest: well, as i think i say in the book, howard was in a real sense born class conscious, because both his parents had very little education. and his father worked extremely hard, you know, as a waiter, as a window washer, all kinds of menial work with the result that he had a very bad back, but he had to keep on working. and the family had to keep on moving. his mother was very resourceful, and she would get a deal whereby the apartment lease would be free for one month, and they would pay for the second. and they would take the free
10:04 pm
month and then move. and they kept doing that in order to avoid rent. so it was a very poor family, and howard knew early on that the notion that all you have to do is work hard and you can get anywhere you want to get in life, he knew that was nonsense. no one could have worked harder than his father did, and his father never even entered the middle class. >> host: now, when howard was in high school, he had a number of friends who were involved in political activity, and you talk about a sort of radicalizing experience that happened with him while he was at a demonstration in times square, i believe? >> guest: yes. we don't have much information about it. it's fairly fuzzy. but we do know that howard hung out with some radical-minded fellow teenagers in brooklyn and that he was influenced by them.
10:05 pm
we know that a couple of them were even in the communist party. howard was not. he was never an idealogue of any kind, in fact. but he was influenced by them, he was influenced by his own life circumstances. and one day there was a demonstration called for times square. we don't even know what the demonstration was about. but we do know that howard went along only of to have the police mounted on horseback charge into the crowd. and howard got bopped on the head and woke up hours later in a doorway. and the march or the protest had long since ended. >> host: um, now as -- a few years later, anti-fascism became a big part of howard's political identity.
10:06 pm
and, in fact, although a lot of his friends thought the second world war was a sort of battle of various imperialists, howard thought that the fight against fascism was a very serious thing. in fact, really wanted to be in the war. can you talk a little bit about how he got involved? >> guest: yeah. well, he actually volunteered. he did feel, as you say, very strongly about fascism. but i was surprised given the fact that as a lay teenager heed been at least somewhat radicalized. i was surprised he wasn't more outspoken about the horrors of the war. in fact, we don't have a lot of information from his time in the service, but i came across nothing at all protesting the slaughter, the maiming, the killing, etc. i think in part that's because
10:07 pm
howard was a bombardier. so as always happens when you're dropping bombs from high up, you never see the damage that's being wrought by those bombs on the ground below. so howard never had to face explicitly the results of his own activity. but it was very soon after world war ii that he became aware of the fact that the very last mission that he flew over a small french town called ronan, they were ordered to fly the mission even though everyone knew the war was about to end, because several thousand german troops were garrisoned there. they were also told that they would be carrying a new kind of
10:08 pm
bomb which turned out, in fact, to be napalm, which howard did not know. and that, of course, you know, wreaked terrible havoc. after the war howard went back to ronan and actually did some archival work there, and he was horrified at how much this beautiful little town -- it had been a favorite of picasso's, for example -- had been decimated. and almost all the german troops had been killed. >> host: um, but you do say that howard never actually called himself a pacifist, is that right? that he, although this was a big experience for him, he ended up having a somewhat nuanced opinion on that? or -- >> guest: yeah. i would say so. i mean, essentially, certainly
10:09 pm
howard the human being was the essence of nonviolence. i mean, he was a gentle, kind, generous man. and he never actually joined a group like the war resisters league, which is devoted to nonviolence on all occasions. because howard was a jew, and howard asked himself over and over again, you know, what would i have done if i had been in the warsaw ghetto? would i have picked up arms? would i have tried to shoot my way out? would i have killed germans? he never answered it to his satisfaction, but he knew pretty well that the answer was, yes. that as a matter of
10:10 pm
self-defense, he did believe that violence could be justified. >> host: so maybe now you can walk us through a little bit of what howard did after the war, when he -- after coming back. >> guest: well, thanks to the g.i. bill howard was able to go to college, and following that -- he was already married, by the way. he married quite young, in his early 20s, and his wife, roz, was also young. and he already had two babies. so when he decided to get his ph.d. in history at columbia, it was difficult. i mean, the family was living very badly. roz took some kind of menial secretarial work part time because they couldn't really afford a babysitter all the
10:11 pm
time. and howard did various, you know, midnight shifts in order to add a little more money to the pot. but they were, essentially, very poor. and yet howard did succeed in getting his doctorate in fairly short order. >> host: now, his first permanent academic appointment was at spelman college, the long-term appointment? um -- >> guest: yeah. he taught while getting his ph.d. part time, but his first full-time employment was at spelman. >> host: so maybe we can, in moving down to the south, that seems to be where howard first got involved in civil rights activity. what was going on at spelman college at the time, and how did howard find himself in the middle of a lot of civil rights politics? >> guest: spelman college was in atlanta, and yet even though
10:12 pm
atlanta is seen certainly today as one of the less racist spots in the south, in fact, atlanta was almost totally segregated when howard arrived at pellman. by -- spelman. by the way, he never, he made sure that people never thought that he took a job at an all-black women's college because he was committed to the black struggle. we're talking about 1956 when the black struggle was just beginning. and though howard did care about black rights, he was not yet an activist in behalf of those rights. but in fairly short order, he and his wife roz both became very active. i mean, his students -- the
10:13 pm
first white women came a little bit after howard's arrival. and even then very few of them. and young black women, many of whom had been brought up in rural areas, they were slightly stunned at this white teacher. there were few other white members of the spelman fact facy faculty -- faculty. but howard was a genius of a teacher. he was very inform formal, very -- informal, very easy going. he prided himself on being good at conversation and on entertaining other points of view. he did not see himself as a lecturer, somebody who was handing down the truth to the unwashed. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: so he early on created a very warm give-and-take
10:14 pm
atmosphere in the classroom. and his students came to trust him, even love him, very early on. and together -- at least the activist students -- they began, you know, to put a toe in the water. and very often what happens when you do that is, you know, some policeman will throw you up against a wall or whatever. and or for many people -- and for many people that leads to you getting angry and deciding i'm going to do more. others retreat completely and never return for the fray. but howard was certainly not one of those. >> host: uh-huh. and some of the first political activity that he was involved in, at least helping the students out with, was sit-ins, right? which is a confrontational tactic. >> guest: absolutely. yeah. any number of times. i never bothered to add up the full count.
10:15 pm
but howard and, again, his wife would sit in often with two or three black students. and when they were refused service, they would continue to sit. and what would then follow would be a variety of things, it just depended on the restaurant, the day of the week and so forth. i mean, some restaurants just turned off all the lights and locked the doors. others just let them sit there and went on serving the other customers. >> host: uh-huh. now, out of all the civil rights organizations, howard was probably most associated with snic. can we talk about how he got involved with them? >> guest: i think he got involved with them originally through the sit-ins. and he was very modest always
10:16 pm
about the contribution he made to snic. but a number of other historians who are specialists in the civil rights struggle, they -- one of them, i remember, said howard skin was -- howard zinn was so modest about his own pronounced activity with snic that if there weren't certain records that we have, one would hardly know that he was involved at all. but, in fact, he was deeply involved. and he was asked along with ella baker who, of course, is one of the heroes of the movement, howard and ella baker were asked to be the two senior advisers to snic. >> host: um, now, one thing you say in the book is that howard wasn't much of a joiner and that
10:17 pm
he liked to be a part of movements, but he wasn't an organizer so much as he was an inspiration to a lot of people. what were, what were some of the skills that you think he brought to snic? was it his speaking, his public speaking, his personal relationships with students? >> guest: oh, i think all of that. i mean, what howard meant when he said he wasn't a joiner was not that he wasn't willing to give any amount of time necessary to something he believed in, what it meant was that he just had no, no patience for administrative work. and, you know, sort of the nuts and bolts of building an organization. he wanted to discuss the big issues. and what his archives do contain are a significant amount of handwritten notes that howard
10:18 pm
took during some of the most significant meetings of snic. for example, the meeting that debated whether or not snic should continue to allow whites to volunteer for the organization. that was a very heated debate. and eventually it ended up with the black members inviting the white members to go and organize their own communities up north. >> host: and how did howard react to that decision? >> guest: howard thought it was a mistake because it meant there would be segregated enterprises once again. the blacks and blacks alone would be active in snic, and the whites would be organizing white
10:19 pm
working class communities. he was against it, but at the same time he understood it. because he was aware, having taught at spelman all those years, he was aware that this was a tendency based on self-preservation on deferring to whites when they were around even though some powerful young black people were associated with snic like bob moses and julian bond. i don't mean on their part necessarily, but it began to look to some of the blacks in the organization as if the white students were taking over the leadership position in part because the black members were deferring to them. >> host: now, would you say that it was around the same time that
10:20 pm
these, some of these divisions are popping up in the civil rights movement, that howard began to get more involved with the peace movement, the anti-vietnam war movement? >> guest: i think that was somewhat coincidental. >> host: okay. >> guest: howard was, in fact, fired from spelman in 1963, and the anti-war movement had not yet really begun. it started to begin the very next year. and howard shifted his base of operation and his family up north when he was offered a job at boston university. but he continued to fly back to the south. he took part, for example, in freedom summer in 1964 and flew back any number of times in order to attend some of these strategy sessions.
10:21 pm
but it is true that once the movement began against the war in vietnam that howard also felt very strongly about that. and his energies began to divide. you know, he never forgot about the black struggle or ceased to have full sympathy with it. but the demands on his time tended to be more and more in regard to the war in vietnam. >> host: now, maybe before we talk a little wit more about what he -- little bit more about what he did in opposition to the war we can talk about what he did to get fired from spelman college. it's certainly related to the civil rights work he did. what was going on at spelman at the time? >> guest: spelman had a black
10:22 pm
president at the time named albert manley. and it's only, it's only since the book has come out as a result of a conversation with someone that i've changed my perspective on the fact that the black president and howard tangled so often and finally so bitterly. howard and his family were packed up in the summer of 1963 ready to go to boston for the summer, and howard stopped off at the mailbox for one look -- for one last look because they needed the last salary check, and he hoped it would be there. what he found instead was the letter from manley that preemptorily fired him, simply told him not to come back.
10:23 pm
and it seemed like an awfully, you know, rough and cruel way to get rid of somebody when all the students were off campus and so forth. but when i referred to rethinking it a little, i did come across an early speech of manley's in which he congratulated the black students at spelman for having activated themselves on behalf of civil rights. and i was very puzzled by it, because i had no other evidence that manley was encouraging. in fact, he was a very tight, authoritarian figure who insisted that all the rules -- and the rules included, you know, no men ever allowed in the room, the students had to wear
10:24 pm
gloves, they had to go to chapel every morning, etc. -- i mean, an extremely traditional set of rules. but in rethinking it recently, it seems to me that maybe what that letter represents is that manley himself was walking a very fine line. all the black presidents of colleges in those years, you know, were -- essentially held their positions on the suffer answer of the -- sufferance of the right powers that be. it could have been that it was not simply that howard was mobilizing the students, but that he -- manley -- was unable
10:25 pm
to because of his position. if he had given a speech saying, come on, let's all go down to joe's restaurant and integrate it, he would have been fired immediately. so it was a very complicated kind of dance that the two were doing with each other. >> host: now, there was somewhat less complicated, it seems, when he was at boston university where he also butted heads with john silver. >> guest: that's right. >> host: and that went over the course of decades that he was there, is that correct? >> guest: yes. yes. silver, who died recently, i was just told -- i'm forgetting by who, some publication had assigned silver to review my biography of howard zinn. [laughter]
10:26 pm
you know, i was -- i can't say i was pleased the man had died, but i was certainly pleased he hadn't reviewed the book, because he would have hated it. [laughter] i very much in the book do take howard's side of things. i mean, silver was such a deeply-dyed conservative that on some issues it's even fair to call him a reactionary. and he loathed howard. and he had the board of trustees at boston university entirely under his thumb. and the chair of the board was a man at least as conservative as sillber himself. and so he and howard just went at each other over practically everything. >> host: uh-huh. maybe now we can turn back to the vietnam war. what were some of the sort of first activities that howard was finding himself involved with
10:27 pm
back in 1964 and onward from there? >> guest: well, it was either '64 or '65, i'm forgetting myself at this point, but i think it was '65 that howard was already active. he gave a speech on the boston common against the war, and that only drew like a hundred people. when he spoke just a few years later, you know, he drew 50,000. because by then the anti-war troops had mobilized. but back in '65 the mobilization was just beginning to roll. and once it started, it went quite quickly. one other pioneering thing that howard did was as early as 1967
10:28 pm
he wrote a book called "vietnam: the logic of withdrawal" in which he called for the united states to remove all of its troops immediately. that was an extremely radical position even into the early '70s. but howard argued it brilliant brilliantly. to my mind, it's one of the two or three best of howard's books. and certainly was a clarion call at the time. because nobody else had argued the case so brilliantly as howard did in that book. >> host: one of the more controversial episodes during the war that you talk about in the book is a trip that howard made to north vietnam along with dan barrigan, a very famous
10:29 pm
peace activist from the '60s. can you talk a little bit about how that came together and what happened with this trip he made? >> guest: yes. it was the result of dave dalinger who was another very well known peace activist at the time. he called howard and said that the north vietnamese leadership had alerted him of the war resisters' league that they were willing to release three american pilots who had been captured, but they wanted to release them into the hands of peace negotiators, not into representatives from the u.s. government. and so howard was asked the to go with dan barrixan, and howard said, well, when? and dave dellinger said tomorrow
10:30 pm
morning. and he left the next morning. >> host: uh-huh. and when he was there, there was a little bit of conflict over how the p.o.w.s who were being released were going to get back to the united states. what happened there? >> guest: yeah. it had been howard and dan barrigan's understanding that the released pilots would come home via commercial planes. and the u.s. government insisted on using government planes which outraged not only howard and dan, but also the war resisters' league and everybody who had been involved in that operation. >> host: now, when he got back, there was a lot of criticism for this trip. many people seemed to think he was basically acting as a stooge for the communist regime in north vietnam. how did howard respond to some of these criticisms that were
10:31 pm
coming at him? >> guest: i mean, the way he responded to all criticisms in regard to his anti-war stance. this is an evil war, we should never have been there in the first place. we are doing ruthless, horrible things, you know, killing multitudes of people. this war has to be ended. and any gesture that i, howard, can make toward that end, i am certainly going to go on making. >> host: now, howard's political activity would continue throughout his life; involvement in sol dare with central american dissidents who were being oppressed by u.s.-backed regimes, the opposition to apartheid. but fairly soon howard would be most famous for his writing, for his history.
10:32 pm
>> guest: right. >> host: now, he had written a number of books in the '60s, and there was a book on racism in the south, on snic, on vietnam, as you just said. those books seem to be pretty direct outgrowths of a lot of the political activity he was doing at the time. what happened with "a people's history of the united states," how did that start to come together? >> guest: i think that, too, was an outgrowth of the way in which howard saw the world with and the way in which the truth was being represented by american historians in textbooks. there was a study done the year before howard's "a people's history of the u.s." came out in 1980. the 1979 study was of a group of u.s. history textbooks, and what
10:33 pm
the researcher concluded was that those textbooks overwhelmingly ignored the lives of ordinary people, never mentioned class conflict and instead glorified american trium that limb. that the textbooks were, essentially, the stories of our wonderful presidents, generals, businessmen, privileged corporate elites, etc. but you learn nothing about -- next to nothing -- about what life was like for ordinary citizens of the country. plus, howard understood that some of the figures who were
10:34 pm
he -- heroickized in the textbooks like christopher columbus hardly deserved the kudos being sent their way. that columbus had, in fact, butchered the indians when he first landed in the new world and treated them with immense hardship and harshness. so what howard set out to do without pretension, he didn't -- pretends, he didn't conceal his hand. he said i'm writing to fill in the blanks. i'm writing an alternate history to the standard textbooks. i think students need to know about the rest of american history so that they can better evaluate that small part of it which the standard textbooks cover. >> host: now, on almost every page of "a people's history"
10:35 pm
you'll find references to other historians whose work howard actually was building off of in writing the book. and he managed to write the book, which is well over 600 pages, very, very quickly. so was howard synthesizing other work that was coming out that was more scholarly? how was he going about getting information for the book? >> guest: he was not doing archival work with. howard was not what we call an archival scholar. he did not enjoy going to manuscript libraries and sitting alone in isolation, you know, year after year gathering primary materials. howard was much too genial and drink gaer yous and social -- gregarious and social a man. he wasn't cut out for that kind of archival work. i myself am an archival historian. but that says lots of things
10:36 pm
about me, which we don't have to go into. [laughter] but i know that among the things that it says is that i have a very high tolerance for isolation. and for very detailed, per fictionistic -- perfectionistic kinds of work. it's quite true that "a people's history" is the result of howard synthesizing the work of a great many other historians. what had happened in the 1960s with the counterculture was that, you know, a whole new generation of young historians had come up. and they were, in essence, reevaluating all aspects of our past. one of howard's closest friends, for example, the historian --
10:37 pm
[inaudible] wrote any number of books reevaluating the american revolution. >> host: uh-huh. now, at the time that it came out and the years that ensued, the book was the subject of a lot of criticisms. pretty, you know, as you would expect from the right, you would hear criticisms. but even among people who are broadly sympathetic with his politics, there were criticisms of the book. i'll read just a couple words of one which happened to be in dissent magazine where i work. almost ten years ago, he thought it was bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions and that zinn was reducing the past to a fable. could you talk about some of these criticisms to the book, how howard responded to them and how you evaluate them in your biography of him? >> guest: in michael caseon's more recent book, the dreamers, he's also very critical of zinn. >> host: yes. >> guest: i would say that
10:38 pm
caseson is the smartest of zinn's critics. most of them come from the conservative side of the tracks. i mean, they simply are not sympathetic with howard's politics and, therefore, they try to discredit his scholarship. i myself in the biography do take issue with parts of "a people's history." i think, for example, that howard is much too hard on abraham lincoln. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: he denies that lincoln was ever concerned with the plight of slaves, that everything he did in regard to slavery was a function of political maneuvering. i don't think that is an accurate picture.
10:39 pm
i think to get the accurate picture you have to read someone like eric fona in his most recent book, "a fiery trial." so, you know, even i have problems with some aspects of "a people's history." but i have problems, as do almost all historians, with every work of history. that's because a certain amount of subjectivity is always built into the process of writing history. i mean, on the one hand there's the problem of we're always dealing with fragments of evidence. what comes down to us from the past is very often, you know, a small fraction of what actually happened in the past.
10:40 pm
and that, that fraction tends to represent the experiences and the interests of the questions since they were the only ones for most of human history who knew how to write, knew how to keep records. so there's automatically a bias simply in terms of the evidence. then when you bring to that fragmentary evidence the individual historian, he or she is always the product of their own life experience, the values that they currently hold. and so you have this subjective individual historian interpreting what is also a subjective pile of very limited
10:41 pm
evidence. so every work of history that you pick up, you can see why the conclusions drawn are the ones drawn. so i do not think that howard is exceptional in the sense of, you know, there being various bones we can pick at. we should have said this instead of that. yes, of course. but that, that's true of every work of history. and what howard did, unlike the vast majority of historians, is to say right up front at the beginning of the book, look, this is my take on u.s. history. this is how i see the evidence. keep that in mind as you read,
10:42 pm
because you will want to know that this is the product of one person's hand. and you can feel free to disagree if you like. >> host: now, "a people's history," although it was criticized by a lot of people, ended up being perhaps the most widely-read book of history written in the 20th century in the united states. >> guest: oh, it still is. >> host: and still is today. >> guest: yeah. >> host: i can attest that it was taught in my u.s. history in high school, ms. kavanaugh. [laughter] >> guest: the honorable ms. kavanaugh. >> host: yes, absolutely. i want to talk a little about why it is you think it became such a popular book. what was it about the book? should we just chalk it up to the fact that matt damon just happened to grow up next door to howard? or is there something else going
10:43 pm
on? >> guest: he did have a couple lucky breaks, one was matt damon who mentioned the book in "good will hunting," and then after that there was an episode on "the sopranos" in which tony soprano's son comes home with the book and starts denouncing columbus. and tony flies into a rage. up until that point, the book had only been out a few years. but up until that point, you know, it had sold fairly modestly. but with those two mentions and on such prominent venues, the book started to take off. and every year -- and this is i think, literally, unprecedented -- every year "a people's history" sells more copies than the preceding year. that, that's astonishing.
10:44 pm
so this book as not reached the end. it's coming upward of, like, two and a half million copies at this point. >> host: in a number of languages now too, right? >> guest: oh, many, many languages. and there have been all kinds of spin-offs. you know, "a people's history of the revolution," "a people's history of labor" and so forth. >> host: um, do you think that there were certain patterns that howard saw in american history that he kind of was trying to bring to the fore with this book? what was -- there's something common in each chapter, kind of historical forces that he was trying to identify. >> guest: i think howard's sympathies throughout the book are with those who were struggling to make a better life, meaning the vast majority of people. and one reason i think that
10:45 pm
howard, howard's book continues to have great influence and to sell very well is because, you know, we have learned yet again again -- that is, since the 19th century and the robber baron -- in our own day every we have learned again that the privileged few are monopolizing the wealth. it's the old 99% slogan. and so i think howard's book resonates with the current climate of opinion in this country, that far too few people are monopolizing the benefits of the society, whereas the vast majority are seeing their life becoming less good because wages
10:46 pm
are not going up, but inflation is. though modestly. a lot of people who are finding jobs are finding only part-time work. so, i mean, certainly i know this in the university system. 60% of the teaching now done in universities is done by so-called adjuncts. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: these are people who are paid, you know, ridiculously-low salaries. there's something like on average $3500 a course. and they aren't allowed to teach more than three courses in most places. some places only two courses. and yet they are kept busy racing from campus to campus in order just to survive. they have no time left over for archival research, for writing, for doing the kind of work that might earn them a tenure
10:47 pm
promotion in some college or university. and that, that's what we're seeing everywhere in the economy. it isn't just the universities. >> host: so you write, you know, that throughout the book howard's telling the story of how the powerful few have deceived and dominated the many. and yet you also talk consistently throughout the book about howard's optimism which was sort of a beacon in any politics that he was involved with. how do you think we can square the optimism that he had about politics, about breaking through and having, people having better lives for themselves and this kind of pattern he saw of people either being repressed or co-opted by the powers that be? >> guest: it's not easy. [laughter] like howard, i'm a temperamental optimist. but if romney had won the election, i think i would
10:48 pm
probably have given up, meaning i would have given up on the american people. but what howard kept saying -- and he proved right again -- he kept saying change and the impetus for change arrives in the most unpredictable ways at the most unpredictable times. it's quite true that most of the workers' strikers that have taken place throughout american history have failed, but some of them have succeeded. and there was once a powerful union movement in the united states. alas, now something like 11 or 12% of workers are unionized, and that's all. but there's some signs of a rebirth there too. and who would have predicted occupy wall street?
10:49 pm
to me, that came out of nowhere just as my optimism was sinking lower and lower into the ground. suddenly, there's occupy wall street. and you think, my god, a whole new generation. and it really looks like in this generation's going to be different. and in every poll i see regardless of the question asked, like do you think gay people should be allowed to marry officially, it's always that 18-26 age cohort in all the polls, in all the polls that has the biggest majority for the most progressive policies. and it tends to be that as you move into older age groups, you find a deepening conservativism. so that, that's the hope.
10:50 pm
that's the reason to remain optimistic, that this new generation is going to try yet again. and maybe, with any luck, they'll have a little more success. >> host: looking back over howard's life, um, we've kind of been talking about him as a scholar and also as an activist. does it make sense to see these identities as separate in him? do you think that one suffers for the other? maybe you could speak to this personally since i know that you've been involved in politics during your life as a scholar as well. >> guest: right. yeah. i mean, what howard said, i think, is very important. he said, look, as teachers and university professors, yeah, we research, we teach, we think, we
10:51 pm
write. all that's fine, all that needs doing. but all of us are also citizens, and we have the obligation as citizens to deal with the events of our own time. to deal with this generation's current issues. and howard certainly did, and i've tried to. we weren't interested necessarily in the same issues, but i think all that you could ask of someone like howard is that he actively dealt with the issues that were most prominent when he was coming up. and that meant issues relating to race and class. he was much less interested in the issues that began in the late 1960s relating to feminism and the gay rights movement. he never said a negative word
10:52 pm
about think of those movements -- about any of those movements, but his heart wasn't in them. his heart was in issues relating to race and class. >> host: now, in the book you talk a fair amount about roz, howard's wife. did you feel like looking at her life was a kind of insight into some of howard's politics when it came to feminism or when it came to gay rights? did you feel like that shed any light on it, on the subject? >> guest: on the summing of roz? >> host: or did roz's life shed any light on what howard was writing about and wasn't writing about? >> guest: roz shared how'd's politics right -- howard's politics right down the line. she was as radical as he was. but roz didn't share his opportunities, which was true of most women of that generation. roz was not only the homemaker,
10:53 pm
the person who did most of the shopping, cleaning, cooking, raising of the kids, and roz was a very gifted person. finally after the children were grown and she finally had a chance to do some of, to explore some of her own gifts, he became a quite talented painter. i've seen quite a bit of her work. and i think i reproduce one of her paintings in the biography. so i think if roz had had more time and more encouragement as her generation of women simply did not, she might have achieved -- i'm almost sure she would have achieved far more. >> host: at the beginning of
10:54 pm
this interview, you mentioned the fact that howard was fairly meticulous in sort of purging his archives of a lot of personal material. did you feel like looking over his life you got any insight into why he would have done that? >> guest: to compensate for the lack of personal material in the archives, i researched the archives of some of his closest friends, someone like francis fox piven who's well known, who's happily still with us. but she's given her papers to smith college. there are a number of such instances where i got permission from the friends to look at their own papers. and there i found some material on howard's personal life and also, of course, i did any number of interviews with howard's friends and colleagues.
10:55 pm
and a couple of them, the or very closest friends, on my pledging that they would remain anonymous did tell me quite a bit about the personal as opposed to the political side. >> host: um, we're running near the end of our time, so i wanted to talk a little bit about what you're hoping people will get out of this biography, and, um, something about what you think the legacy of howard zinn is lasting into the present and the future. >> guest: well, i know what i hope his legacy will be. whether it comes to pass, we'll see. i think howard is a perfect example of a citizen who took on
10:56 pm
the responsibilities that he felt every citizen needed to if a democracy was to survive and flourish. in other words, you must get active even if it's on the local level in a limited enterprise. but you have to be able to associate yourselves with the issues of your own day. that it isn't enough to be a professional, to work hard, to raise a family, whatever your circumstances have to be. you have simply got to find a little time. in howard's case he was able to find a lot of time. in order to devote yourself to public affairs. and i think howard also demonstrates in his life that
10:57 pm
when people do act collectively rather than on an individual basis, you, i mean, you could run ragged through the streets screaming against the war in vietnam. but if you have 100,000 people screaming through the streets beside you, you're more likely to get a change in policy. and howard, threw his activities, saw enough changes in policies so that he knew that when people unite in sufficient numbers, they really can make a difference. and i think, ultimately, that's his legacy. >> host: indeed, have you seen any of that influence in occupy wall street? >> guest: oh, absolutely. i've seen it very directly. several encampments of occupy,
10:58 pm
when they set up a library, it's been called the howard zinn library. so howard is well known to the radical activists of occupy. >> host: well, that's great. martin, it's been wonderful talking with you today. everyone should go out and pick up the book. again, it's "howard zinn: a life on the left." thank you. >> guest: thank you. >> that was "after words," booktv's signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed by journalists, public policymakers and others familiar with their material. "after words" airs every weekend at 10 p.m. on saturday, 12 and 9 p.m. on sunday and 12 a.m. on monday. you can also watch "after words" online. go to and crook on "-- click on after words on the
10:59 pm
upper right side of the page. >> over the last few weeks, booktv has aired several best of 2012 book lists which are all available at we also sat down with sarah weinman of publisher or's marketplace to discuss the past year in the literary world. to watch that conversation and more, visit search 2012 year in books. >> you're watching c-span2. with politics and public affairs, weekdays featuring live coverage of the u.s. senate. on weeknights watch key public policy events and every weekend the latest nonfiction authors and books on booktv. you can see past programs and get our schedules at our web site, and you can join in the conversation on social media sites. ..
disc Borrow a DVD of this show
info Stream Only
Uploaded by
TV Archive
on 1/6/2013